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Former soldier Dan Byles uses his maiden speech to highlight the issue of mental health care for veterans

Dan Byles Commons Dan Byles won Warwickshire North at the general election and used his first contribution in the chamber last Thursday to raise an issue about which he clearly cares very passionately:

“I had the privilege of serving for some nine years with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a medical support officer. Indeed, I served on operations in Bosnia under the command of the EU military headquarters, when I served with HQ EUFOR in Banja Luka…. I left the Army to enter politics because I became deeply concerned about the support that we as a nation give to our wounded soldiers. That the British people hold our servicemen and women in the highest regard is beyond doubt; the success of fantastic charities such as Help for Heroes and Combat Stress ably demonstrates that. But these are charities that should not need to exist.

“I still do not believe that we, as a nation and as a Government, give our soldiers and their families the support they deserve when they are damaged on operations fighting for our country. As the Prime Minister noted yesterday, the sad fact is that we have now lost more veterans of the Falkands conflict to suicide than we did during the conflict itself. Specialist programmes such as the veterans medical assessment and reservist mental health programmes rely on referrals from civilian GPs. They are excellent programmes for those who make it that far, but study after study has shown that only a small minority of civilian GPs are even aware that they exist. In theory, veterans are entitled to priority treatment on the national health service, but in practice, for too many that entitlement simply is not there.

“There will doubtless be much debate over the coming months about the value of some major defence projects costing billions of pounds, but please let us get the fundamentals right too. Let us not forget the poor bloody soldier and his family-the soldier on whom we call to do so much in our name, and who deserves our support when he has been wounded, when he has been traumatised, and when he is back home, out of uniform, and the medal parades are over.”

This an issue on which David Cameron is already setting to work, according to this morning's Sun.

Jonathan Isaby


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